In our regular feature, we investigate Hong Kong’s past and present, with interesting facts, tips, trivia and time travel – and the occasional tricky challenge for readers! We’ll be updating this every month or two, so don’t forget to check back regularly!
At the recent Tokyo Olympic Games, Hong Kong came away with its best medal haul of any Games. Congrats to the whole team! Here are some updated stats on HK’s performance across all Olympics.
- Number of Olympic Games appearances: 17 (1952- 2020)
- Smallest team: 2 athletes, Melbourne 1956
- Biggest team: 47 athletes, Los Angeles 1984 (there were 46 at Tokyo)
- First medal of any colour: Gold, Atlanta 1996
- First gold medallist: Lee Lai-Shan (windsurfing)
- Number of Olympics with no medals: 13
- Most recent Olympics with no medals: Rio 2016
- Best medal haul: 6, Tokyo 2020 (1 gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze)
- Total medal haul across 68 years: 9 (2 gold, 3 silver, 4 bronze)
- Best of luck to Hong Kong’s athletes competing in the 2020 Summer Paralympics as this issue goes to press!
A Theme Park Of Yesteryear
With Ocean Park’s Water World recently opening as HK’s newest theme park, we thought we’d take a look in the history books at a much older one instead.
Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park (pictured) opened in April 1949 near Lai Chi Kok Bay (the name means “lychee corner”) on the west side of Kowloon. It was Hong Kong’s biggest park of its kind, remaining so for decades. Highlights included:
- thrill rides called “Dragon Coaster”, “Space Car”, “Sky Merry” and “Astro Swinger”;
- fun-house experiences called “Surprising House”, “Haunted Mansion” and “Grandish House”;
- a carousel, Ferris wheel, shooting gallery and bumper cars;
- a monorail for touring the whole park;
- knife-throwing exhibitions and an ice-skating rink (winter only!); and,
- a zoo with everything from a Bactrian camel to a German goat, plus star attraction Tino the Asian elephant.
Tickets to get in were originally 60 cents, rising to around $15 by the time the park closed in 1997.
In 2015, a son of one of the owners of Lai Chi Kok launched a “pop-up” version of the old amusement park in Central, hoping to evoke some happy nostalgic vibes. Called “Lai Yuen Super Summer”, it featured a handful of rides and attractions, and a robot version of Tino the elephant! Reviews were mixed.
Hong Kong had earlier amusement parks than Lai Chi Kok. The first was perhaps Yue Yuen, or “Happy Retreat”, at the south end of the Happy Valley racecourse. It opened in the 1890s and was still operational into the 1920s. One source mentions that it had a Ferris Wheel, swings, a shooting gallery, fireworks and live music.
There was also a Luna Park in HK, like in many other places around the world; it opened the same year as Lai Chi Kok, but shut just five years later, in 1954.
5 Things To Know About Tap Mun
If you haven’t done an island day trip to Tap Mun, off the northeast coast of Sai Kung, it’s worth the effort for a mix of scenery, exercise, culture and food.
The name Tap Mun means “stupa door”; this probably comes from the island’s step-like rock formations and caves, which resemble a temple entrance. The best-known formation is Balance Rock, two huge cubes of stone sitting on top of each other in a way that resembles the Chinese character lui: 呂. You can find Balance Rock on the shoreline on the southeast corner of Tap Mun.
You’ll also hear Tap Mun called “Grass Island” – for obvious reasons. There are plenty of meadowy fields to be found, but the best is located a short walk from the pier to the eastern side of the island. A pavilion at the top is a popular spot for a picnic. (The lack of trees is said to provide a year-round breeze, but EL’s last visit was on a sweltering July day and there wasn’t a single knot of wind!)
You won’t be strolling the green hillocks alone if you come. There’s a decent-sized population of resident cows who’ll wander up to visitors sitting at tables and under shelters to have a sniff for food. They’re arguably Hong Kong’s most brazen herd – so keep an eye on your picnic hamper.
The Tin Hau temple at Tap Mun is worth a look; in fact, it’s a cluster of three temples, around 300 years old. (A bronze bell in one of them dates back to 1737.) According to a local legend, a pirate’s tunnel once ran from the temple to a spot near Balance Rock. Keep an eye out for the pretty sculptures on the temple roof.
There used to be a school here – it was behind the temple, higher up the hill. King Lam School opened in the middle of the 20th century, but now lies in ruins. (We’ve not poked our head in, but apparently you can.) The reason for its closure in 2003? We’re guessing low student numbers, as there was only a single 12-year-old girl enrolled at the time!
Aside from those features and points of note, the best thing to do on Tap Mun is to wander around the fishing villages – there’s one at the pier and another to the south – and then follow paths to different panoramic spots. The main village has a couple of restaurant options (try Sun Yau Kee – and, yes, choose the seafood dishes!).
Oh, and if you enjoy a rustic religious festival, there’s one held here every 10 years, when a flotilla of boats carries statues of Tin Hau to the island of Kat O. But you’ll need to wait until 2029 for the next one – sorry…
Getting There: Take the 94 or 96R bus from Sai Kung to Wong Shek Pier (96R is weekends only), then a kaito from the pier to Tap Mun. Each leg of the trip from Sai Kung (bus and boat) takes around half an hour.
The Big Gig
Who’s excited about seeing bands playing live in Hong Kong again? We are! In the meantime, here’s a look back at one of the highest profile concerts the city has witnessed – 56 years ago, when the Beatles visited during their world tour of 1964.
Date: June 1964. Most reports say that the band played on 9 June, but there are collectors’ ticket stubs that clearly say 10 June. Whichever night it was, the band played two shows (the late show started at 9.30pm), to a crowd of around 1,700 people each time.
Venue: Princess Theatre on Nathan Road. The theatre was demolished in the 1970s and is the current location of The Mira hotel.
Cost: Up to $70 per ticket.
Set list: While there’s no official record of the set list, the band’s recent big hits are all likely to have featured – “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “All My Loving” and “She Loves You” – along with popular covers like “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Twist and Shout”.
Story of the gig:
- It wasn’t so much the Fab Four as the Fab Three plus one. Ringo Starr was in a hospital in London recovering from tonsillitis. He would also miss the first show (in Adelaide) of the subsequent Australia tour.
- Neither of the Hong Kong shows was sold out because the ticket price was too expensive for the band’s main fan base – teenagers. It’s said to be the only concert in the band’s history where the promoter lost money! Military serviceman made up a big proportion of the crowd; Paul McCartney would later recall that it was mostly a “khaki audience”.
- Despite this report, some fans who attended recall the concert as having the typical throngs of screaming fans – to the point where the music was mostly drowned out.
- The Beatles’ Hong Kong tour is said to have prompted a demand for more rock and roll records and shows, with the likes of The Carpenters and Herman’s Hermits also touring in the 1960s. The Rolling Stones dragged the chain: they didn’t play in HK until 2003
Founding a Ferry
The name Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala may not roll off the tongue, but it’s an important one in the history of one of Hong Kong’s iconic companies. Dorabjee was an Indian parsee who arrived here in 1852 as a stowaway on a ship travelling from Bombay to China.From those humble origins, he went on to become a hotel entrepreneur, founding the King Edward Hotel and perhaps as many as three other properties in Hong Kong.
In 1880, Dorabjee launched a ferry service across Victoria Harbour with a steamboat called the Morning Star – the “star” in the name stemmed from the symbol of his Zoroastrian religion. The trip between Pedder’s Wharf and Tsim Sha Tsui took between 40 minutes and an hour. By 1890, there were four ferries making the journey. Over the next ten years, British-Indian businessman Sir Catchick Paul Chater bought all the boats from Dorabjee, and in May 1898 the Star Ferry became a public company.
Today, around 26 million people each year ride on Hong Kong’s iconic green-and-white Star Ferry. The fleet’s nine boats ply the eight minute route from Central to TST and back again all day, with passengers paying just a couple of HK dollars or so for the privilege.
The Escalator in Numbers
We’ve all been on it – some of us use it every day; Hong Kong’s Central-Mid Levels Escalator is, according to the folks at Guinness World Records, the longest outdoor covered escalator system on the planet. Here are some other stats we uncovered about this unique walkway.
1993 – The year the escalator opened 800 Its approximate length, in metres
135 – The change in elevation, in metres, from top to bottom
782 – The number of steps you have to climb if you choose to walk beside the escalator instead of using it
75 – Approximate number of CCTV cameras on the escalator
6 – The number of days of filming that took place on the escalator in 1997 for the Batman film The Dark Knight (starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger)
21 – The number of different sections to the escalator
78,000 – Approximate daily usage (number of people) of the escalator in 2016
240 mill. – The cost to build the escalator – $140 million over budget
20 – The travel time from top to bottom, in minutes, if you don’t do any extra walking on the escalator sections themselves
Also… In its early years of operation, the escalator was considered a “white elephant”, as it didn’t seem to achieve the desired effect of alleviating the traffic problems in the area. Since then, however, its usage has grown to three times the original estimates, and it has helped to revitalise much of the urban area it passes through. The escalator is currently undergoing a major four-year renovation, which is expected to be finished by 2022.
On the road again
There are more than 860,000 registered vehicles in Hong Kong, which makes for an incredibly busy network of highways, streets and lanes – many of which have an interesting backstory. Here’s our look at 10 pieces of road-related trivia in HK.
The longest road in Hong Kong is Castle Peak Road – which, incidentally, celebrates its 100th birthday in 2020. The 51.5km road runs from Kowloon all the way to near the top of the New Territories.
And the shortest? Well, there are some tiny lanes that aren’t navigable by car (one example is Wa On Lane off Aberdeen Street), but the shortest street that vehicles can use is Lok Kwai Path in Shatin. It’s 12 metres in length.
Tsat Tsz Mui Road in North Point has a tragic background to its name. It means “seven sisters” and refers to a tale of seven Hakka girls who lived in the original village at this spot. When young, they pledged to remain sisters for life, and to die on the same day without getting married. After the girls’ parents arranged a marriage for one of them, they committed suicide together on the beach the day before the wedding. The urban myth developed around a group of seven large boulders located along the shoreline here.
There’s a Hong Kong street name that consists of an English name spelt backwards. Know which one? Well, a Mr Alexander once lived along a particular Mid-Levels terrace, and today the thoroughfare is known as Rednaxela Terrace. Nobody really knows why, though the error is usually blamed on a scribe who was accustomed to reading Chinese from right to left.
That same street is famous not just for its backwards name, but as the temporary home of José Rizal, the Filipino nationalist hero of the 19th century. During his time in Hong Kong (1891-1892), he ran an ophthalmology clinic on D’Aguilar Street, Central.
Russell Street in Causeway Bay has six times been named the most expensive retail street by rental value in the world. It last regained the crown in 2018, replacing New York’s Fifth Avenue, thanks to an average rental per square foot of almost HK$21,000. Not quite so luxurious is the street’s old nickname of “Mouse Street” or “Rat Street”, which it got for the excessive rodent population that was drawn to all the traditional wet markets once found here.
The one-way High Street in Sai Ying Pun was originally called Fourth Street. Why did the name get changed? If you’ve ever been in an elevator whose numbers skip straight from three to five, it’s the same reason. The number four is considered unlucky because in Chinese it sounds similar to the word for “death”. (Fear of the number four, by the way, is known as tetraphobia.)
A large number of Hong Kong street names have a maritime theme. In Shau Kei Wan alone, there are five streets that start with “Hoi” (“sea”). Elsewhere, you’ll find Ferry Street, Pier Road, Shek Wharf Road, Shipyard Lane, Boat Street and over 100 more.
Chinese translations of English street names sometimes go astray, as evidenced by Fir Street, whose Chinese name translates as “Pine Street”. Meanwhile, Pine Street is known as “Cedar Street” in Chinese, and Cedar Street is “Cypress Street”.
Yes, parts of the 1960 Hollywood film The World of Suzie Wong were filmed in Hollywood Road. But the street isn’t named for the famous Los Angeles movie enclave. The name has less glamorous origins, deriving from the family home in Bristol of Sir John Francis Davis, the second Governor of Hong Kong.
- The highest speed limit of any road in Hong Kong is 110 kilometres per hour on the North Lantau Highway.
- There are over 2,100km of roads in Hong Kong.
- Glenealy is one of the few thoroughfares in the city without “Street”, “Road” or a similar suffix. It just goes as “Glenealy”.
- Hong Kong has approximately 1,300 vehicular bridges, and 15 major road tunnels.
- Many Hong Kong streets (or surrounding areas) have nicknames; they include Cat Street, Dried Seafood Street, Antique Street and Herbal Medicine Street.
5 things you mightn’t know about pineapple buns…
A pineapple bun (or bo lo bao) consists of a soft sweet bun topped with a harder crumbly cookie style crust made of sugar, eggs, flour and lard. When cooked, this crust on top cracks open, giving the bun a pineapple-like appearance on top. That’s where it gets its name – there’s no actual pineapple in the ingredient list. We’re sure you knew that fact. But here are a few other things about this delicious bakery snack that you mightn’t know!
- “Pineapple Bun” was once nominated as a typhoon name but rejected on the grounds that it would sound silly in otherwise serious news reports of the storm.
- The famous snack appeared in animated form in the 2004 film McDull, The Prince of the Pineapple Bun with Butter.
- In 2014, the pineapple bun made it onto the government’s list of 480 “items of living cultural heritage” (along with entries such as fire dragon dances, kung fu and the making of snake wine).
- A Japanese variety of the pineapple bun is the “melonpan”, whose top resembles a rockmelon or cantaloupe.
- Among the famous places to buy the buns in Hong Kong is Tai Tung Bakery in Yuen Long, which has made around 1,000 of them daily for well over 70 years.
The 1986 John Woo blockbuster, A Better Tomorrow, starring Chow Yun-fat and Leslie Chung, broke the Hong Kong box-office records of the day and influenced local cinema for years to come. It also influenced lots of young (mostly male) Hong Kong moviegoers, who were so enthralled by the Chow Yun-fat character, Mark, that they tried to replicate his look by wearing long “duster” coats and black Alain Delon sunglasses. In fact, Hong Kong stores are said to have completely sold out of that brand of sunglasses within a week of the movie premiere.
Want to find out more Hong Kong facts and trivia? See our Living in Hong Kong section.
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